The Toronto Raptors are one of the best organizations in any sport at keeping information a secret. Masai Ujuri and Bobby Webster work magic behind the scenes and we rarely catch on to their plans. For the first time, we know exactly what their master plan is. The Raptors have done everything to keep a max slot open for next summer when Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes a Free Agent. They refused to commit multiple years to both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. They have yet to extend OG Anunoby, and Kyle Lowry expires after this season. While this is an amazing opportunity – What happens if Giannis signs the super max to stay with the Milwaukee Bucks?
Let’s be clear. If you feel that you have any realistic chance to land a player of Giannis’s caliber, you go all in. There are plenty of reasons that Giannis might consider the Raptors. First, they have a solid core around his age in Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, OG Anunoby, and Norman Powell. Second, they have Nick Nurse who is one of the best coaches in the league. Lastly, and most importantly, they have Masai Ujuri (for now). Masai is an elite culture builder, talent finder, and has a connection to Giannis. The Raptors are a team with a void and need a Superstar talent in their lineup. The match makes a lot of sense.
Despite all of this, the chances of him joining the Raptors is optimistically maybe around 10-20 percent. The good news is that no one outside of Milwaukee is a clear favourite ahead of the Raptors. As much as fans don’t want to hear it, let’s take a look at where the Raptors can go if Giannis does not come to Toronto.
2021 Unrestricted Free Agency (Non Giannis)
The 2021 NBA free agency class is loaded with top-level talent. Giannis is the most talked about among the stars in this class, but there are other notables. Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Rudy Gobert, Jrue Holiday, and Victor Oladipo are among players who might be unrestricted free agents. We can quickly rule out a few of them. Lebron James isn’t coming to Toronto. There is no connection between the Raptors and Paul George, so that seems unlikely. Kawhi Leonard might sound like a fun option, but if he didn’t come back after the championship it is extremely unlikely he comes back next summer.
Rudy Gobert, Victor Oladipo, and Jrue Holiday are all interesting options. Gobert would be a great addition to an already loaded defence in Toronto. They do not have a centre for the future and he could fit the timeline of their core. Oladipo is somewhat intriguing when you look at what he is capable of. In 2017-18 he averaged 23.1 points per game, and was named to an NBA All-Defence team, the All-NBA third team, and was the league’s Most Improved Player. Of course, this was just one season and he has had many injury concerns in his career. Jrue Holiday could be a nice option to replace Lowry if he chooses to opt out of his contract with the Bucks.
At the end of the day, there aren’t any options nearly as enticing as Giannis. Gobert would be the most realistic target, but he alone does not propel the Raptors into title favourites. If the Raptors go for any free agents, it will likely be focused on retaining Powell and Lowry or taking a look at some bargain free agents down the list. Players like Jabari Parker, Ben McLemore, or Justice Winslow could be buy-low kinds of targets that could potentially succeed with the Raptors organization. The creativity of the front office will be in full effect.
Trade for a Star
This is likely the most interesting option to consider. Ever since the Raptors traded for Kawhi, fans have created packages to trade for star players on the market. We’ve seen Bradley Beal mentioned as a potential trade target for the Raptors. Myles Turner has been discussed as a young player with a high-ceiling. Even when James Harden rumours began some Raptor fans were putting together packages that could land the 2017-18 league’s Most Valuable Player. Masai and Bobby will most definitely do their due diligence on these players and aren’t afraid to pull the trigger for the right price.
The Raptors certainly have the assets to acquire any player who requests a trade. If they package one or more of Vanvleet, Anunoby, Powell, Siakam and sweeteners such as Terence Davis or Matt Thomas – they will get some serious interest. On top of this, the Raptors own all of their future first round picks. We’ve seen the both Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers trade away multiple first round picks to acquire star players. This definitely has some serious risk attached to it, but these assets could be used to acquire anyone. Only if they see someone that they desperately want.
It is impossible to predict who might become available for trade over the next few years. Karl-Anthony Towns could get fed up in Minnesota if they do not make the playoffs soon. Maybe Canadian point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will grow frustrated in Oklahoma City as they go through a lengthy rebuild. It could be anyone really. As we saw in the Kawhi case, the player being traded does not have the leverage to choose where they go. Toronto isn’t exactly a destination in the NBA, but the front office has shown the willingness to make these kinds of moves. The Raptors certainly have the assets to make this type of deal if they believe it will raise them to be among the league’s title favourites.
Draft and Develop
This is by far the least sexy of all the options. Acquiring proven star talent is extremely enticing – especially in free agency, as you get the asset without giving anyone up. This option however, is the Raptors greatest strength. In recent years they have been the model of the NBA in developing talent. The term is ‘draft and develop’ but the real saying for the Raptors should be ‘find and develop’. The Raptors system has developed Siakam, Vanvleet, Anunoby, Powell, and Davis. Even Lowry has developed immensely in the Raptors system despite playing his first six seasons elsewhere.
How this core was built:
Gary Forbes + 2013 pick 12 (Steven Adams) = Kyle Lowry
Grevous Vasquez = Norman Powell and future 2017 pick (23rd overall OG Anunoby)
2016 pick 27 = Pascal Siakam
Vanvleet and Davis were both undrafted players for the Raptors that they have developed. Pretty much the Raptors have turned Forbes, Vasquez, two first round picks, and two savvy pickups into the six most important players that they have today. Steven Adams was a solid pick, but it was easily worth the trade for Toronto. Needless to say, they have an outstanding track record with finding and developing talent. There is reason to believe that this will continue.
As mentioned in the previous section, the Raptors have all of their future first round picks. They drafted point guard Malachi Flynn this offseason, as well as Jalen Harris with pick 59. Knowing the Raptors, one or both of these players will be a part of the future core. If they can continue this success they could have a new batch of young talent that mirrors the current young core. This can happen in the next 2-3 years which could fit onto the timeline of this current core’s prime. If players like Siakam, Vanvleet, and Anunoby can reach their full potential the next batch of talent could be the depth that they need to push them over the hump. The development will be most crucial to Siakam if he can take the next step and become a superstar.
Which way will they go if they don’t get Giannis?
If the Raptors fail to land Giannis, the most likely route moving forward will be Draft and Develop. The 2021 free agent class doesn’t have many options for the Raptors behind Giannis. If they sign anyone next summer it will likely be a buy low candidate, and probably a front court player. They will stick to their mentalities of drafting the best player available, signing undrafted college seniors, and building around team defence. Nick Nurse and the rest of the Raptors developmental staff will be major factors in how well this will continue to work. It cannot be ruled out that after a few years of drafting and developing, the Raptors will use their accumulated assets to trade for a star player.
By signing Giannis, the Raptors would be in the conversation for a championship instantly. Alternatively, it will take two or three seasons in the best case scenario if they do not land him. Either way, the Raptors should be fun and competitive for the foreseeable future – whether competing for titles or just winning a lot of games. The biggest question mark moving forward for the Raptors is if Masai and Bobby will resign with the team, as they have one year left on their contracts. Having one, or both, of them will be critical to this plan.